Does the Bible Promise That We Will Receive Everything We Ask For in Prayer? (A4A 1)
First published 19 October 2010
What’s the Problem?
One morning as I was having my daily Bible reading and prayer time, I read a passage that sent me into a bit of a spin. It was James chapter 5. Verses 14-15 read, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” I had to challenge myself. Do I really believe this? This appears to say that if a Christian is sick, and healing is prayed for, then that person will definitely be healed. But I then thought of all the Christians I know who have been sick and have not been healed, even though prayers have been offered to God. If the Bible promises healing for all who pray for healing, and even one Christian does not get the healing that is requested, then doesn’t that undermine that trustworthiness of the Bible?
Given my own situation, of serious illness, I could not leave those questions hanging. I had to push for some answers. (I have to admit that I cannot use personal experience to challenge the Bible, mainly because the Lord has graciously answered many prayers in my case. I am in complete remission, and my cancer is gone. The doctors can’t say it is cured, because they can only say that if it doesn’t come back within 5-10 years. But “complete remission” is still a pretty amazing answer to prayer, and I thank God for the chemotherapy and for the doctors who gave the treatment. God has also provided for us in many ways as a family, materially, physically and emotionally. So I am very grateful, and acutely aware that my questions may be unfair. I may only be reflecting my own lack of faith, and my own weak understanding of God’s care for His children. So I push for answers with a humble attitude, asking for more faith as well as illumination.)
As I started to look into this question, however, I started to realise that I was not dealing with an isolated verse in the letter of James. Promises like this are made consistently throughout the New Testament. Let me list the verses that piled even more weight into my problem:
Jesus said, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
Again, in a slightly different context, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
Jesus also said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
On another occasion, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)
Six times in the space of three chapters in John’s gospel, Jesus makes similar statements:
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7)
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16)
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:23-24)
James, in his letter, says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8)
He also says later on, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2)
The apostle John says in his first letter, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:21-22)
He goes on to say, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
Hence the question I am now drawn into is not the question I originally set out with. It is much deeper. I started out questioning whether God really promises to heal every Christian for whom prayers are said. The questions I now find myself with are these: Does the New Testament promise that God will infallibly give His children whatever we ask for in prayer? If not, what should we learn from those passages that speak in those terms?
I’m afraid I’ve now run out of space to share my thoughts on those questions. That’s the trouble with writing on such serious subjects on a blog! I hope that the survey of passages above has provoked your interest, and that you are feeling as keen as I was to find the answers. But don’t worry, I’m not going to leave it at that. I will share my thoughts in future pieces, soon, although I’m not claiming to have found all the answers! Here are the kind of themes we will come across in the next few articles:
- The conditions for receiving what we ask for:
- Have faith;
- Ask according to God’s will;
- Ask in Jesus’ name;
- Abiding in Christ, and His words abiding in us;
- Ask for the right reasons;
- Keep his commandments and do what pleases Him;
- The humility required to pray in Jesus’ name;
- The importance of praying as a church;
- God is our loving Heavenly Father and we can ask Him anything;
- The emphasis is on the asking, not on the receiving.
So I’ll leave it there for now. Let me know if you have any thoughts. Please also join me in praying that we will understand how we ought to pray, so that we may do so with confidence and joy.